No! penury, inertness and grimace,
In some strange sort, were the land’s portion. ‘See
‘Or shut your eyes,’ said Nature peevishly,
‘It nothing skills: I cannot help my case:
‘ ‘T is the Last Judgement’s fire must cure this place,
‘Calcine its clods and set my prisoners free.’
(Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came, Robert Browning, 1855)
I’ve been reading a bit of poetry to get some mental space from all the college readings.
On my ten minute train ride to college in the morning I can normally read one poem, maybe half of a long one.
These lines are from Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, by Robert Browning. The last line of the poem, from which it draws its name – ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came’ – is a line from Shakespeares’ King Lear.
I’m led to believe that people who actually received something like an education at school might have studied Browning. My education was far too progressive to be concerned with the metrical ramblings of 19th Century white European males. More’s the pity…
I’ve got to be honest and say that this stanza isn’t necessarily Browning’s greatest work. But it grabbed me this morning with its strangely profound side-reference to the curative nature of God’s final judgement. In this stanza of the poem Childe Roland is surveying the ruined plain over which he journeys toward the Dark Tower, and conceives the voice of Nature speaking about its ruined state. I was struck by how profoundly Christian this voice is, nature is frusterated (‘peevish’), it has been placed in bondage to decay (‘I cannot help my case’). Nature groans to Childe Roland, longing for the restoration that can only take place at the time of God’s judgement (check these lines against Romans 8).
I’m not quite sure what Browning intended, but we often overlook the truth that God’s judgement is not ultimately driven by some over zealous will-to-punish, rather, it is the judgement that restores. It is God’s judgement that will set free Nature, along with the Children of God, into the life of a recreated Universe.
In the calcination (burning to ash) of the old dirt will come about the final Exodus. God will one final time speak his irresistable word to the Pharaohs and Empires, “Let my people go!” and we shall Rise.